Frogs and Ravens 1.0

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Friday, May 30, 2003


Real Life Calls Shotgun

The apartment is as clean as it is going to get, and it's time to head up to the airport to get D.!

Translation: blogging will be light this weekend while offline life takes the stage. Have fun out there until I get back!

posted by Rana | 5/30/2003 06:43:00 PM Permalink


Raining Ranas

Dorothea posts that she's received an email from a real-life Rana. Cool!

As she suspected, however, my "Rana-ness" is indeed a pseudonym, and it does mean frog (in Spanish as well as Latin). I began using it back when TableTalk at Salon was free (alas, no more...) and it has since spread into a variety of venues. I like it because it's short, I like frogs (among many other small quirky creatures), and it has certain affinities with my real-life name. (I thought about Raven at one time, but it doesn't work as well, somehow. Don't know why.)

As for email... I hate spam and I move a lot, so it's hard to maintain a public email address that I don't mind getting mined by spam spiders. You can send things to me at my "dump" email -- c h e r a l @ l y c o s . c o m -- but only if you're willing to wait (on the order of weeks) and don't mind the possibility of Lycos purging it before I get there. Posting a comment to me here is much faster and more reliable. :)

(And yes, "c h e r a l" is a pseud, too. Paranoid little thing, aren't I?)

posted by Rana | 5/30/2003 10:04:00 AM Permalink

Thursday, May 29, 2003



Grades are IN. Finals are GONE. Yeeeesss!

And, more to the point, D comes to visit tomorrow!

Now, this does raise the question. Why am I sitting here in my office on campus instead of at home, cleaning up?!

To give you all a full sense of the issue, remember that (1) I have been grading, (2) I am a packrat, (3) I am a strewer, (4) I have been working on a sewing project, so scraps, threads, tools, etc. are currently
everywhere, (5) I'm short on quarters, so no laundry... AAAAGH!

posted by Rana | 5/29/2003 02:58:00 PM Permalink


More Bytes Wasted on the Matrix Reloaded

No, I haven't seen it. I don't know if I will; I mean, it would take a month's worth of tax cuts to buy a ticket! One thing that I am pleased to see, however, is that the sequel is getting slammed for being shallow, gratuitously flamboyant with the special effects, etc. (I'm not opposed to these things in a movie per se, mind you. Sometimes you just want the mindless eye candy.)

The reason why this pleases me is that the heart of the criticism lies in the reviewers' sense of betrayal that the film is not as "deep" as the first one. This amuses me greatly. Deep? Oh, please. Original? Hah. It's not like science-fiction novelists haven't been writing about virtual worlds, robot take overs, etc. for decades, even before the web was invented, is it? Drop in a few literary allusions, it seems, and you have produced something "deep" and maybe even "scholarly."

But, to get to the point, it does suggest that viewers, even of sci-fi (so commonly believed to be the zone of cool effects and stupid plots -- remember "Zardoz," anyone?) want something more taxing than eye candy, and this is promising.

Postscript: For those of you who want to see a true "scholar's movie," I recommend The Mummy. Yeah, it's cheesy and features silly special effects and has an ancient, revived mummy wandering around sucking people dry. But it also features a scene in which two of the characters, as the heroes are trying to fight off an army of the undead, argue about how to pronounce hiroglyphic writing on an ancient scroll. Scholars, indeed!

Post-postscript: If you want a good laugh, go to Lilek's review of the Matrix Reloaded. Very funny!

posted by Rana | 5/29/2003 10:52:00 AM Permalink


Stimulating the Economy -- Whose?

I learned this morning that"almost immediately" the tax withholdings on my paychecks will be reduced. By how much?

Well, for someone earning $480/week (the lowest they give -- what is up with that? I wish I made that much. And have you ever noticed that the usual "bottom" yearly income is about $40,000? Well, I make less than half that, currently...) the savings per week is...

Wait for it...


Well. Time for that big shopping spree, ain't it?

posted by Rana | 5/29/2003 10:27:00 AM Permalink

Wednesday, May 28, 2003


On a Lighter Note...

All is not doom and gloom. I am enjoying the book I am reviewing, I successfully realigned a bent bicycle tire today, and the corset is almost done!

posted by Rana | 5/28/2003 04:23:00 PM Permalink


The Sorrows of Young Rana?

It worries me sometimes to look over my past postings. I had not intended, when I began, to produce such an unhappy, bitter, angry blog. I had vague ideas about this blog being an outlet for the odd observations I make on a day-to-day basis, and to serve as an arena for hashing over things that I've already rendered into little bits with my friends but can't quite let go. I suppose that it is successfully serving the function as a space to vent, but I hadn't fully realized what a nasty collection of negative emotions I' ve been bottling up until now. (No wonder my eye is acting up!)

I suspect, therefore, that it will be a long time before this becomes much of anything besides an ego-blog. I keep thinking that I can perhaps wrest some lessons out of my experiences and that others may profit thereby, but it's still too raw. Each time I try, I can't sustain the role of analyst; it's like trying to look objectively at oneself in a mirror.

Still, I think it is good for me to continue, even if only for my own selfish benefit. It may be that there are some of you out there reading this who are comforted by knowing that you are not alone, or some may find reading my travails to be interesting in a train wreck sort of way. Of course, you may just find this all terribly boring (that's okay) or nauseatingly self-pitying. (I hope not this too much; I'd hate to for this to be the blog equivalent of The Sorrows of Werther. Ick.)

In any case, I think just having a record of this experience will be a good thing (and there's the historian speaking!). It may be (I hope) that I can look back at this and laugh, or at least with a sense of pity tempered with the knowledge that I-now was/is missing the big picture that was/will be revealed later.

posted by Rana | 5/28/2003 04:22:00 PM Permalink



It is now officially summer. The grading is over, I ate cotton candy yesterday, and I woke up with my first mosquito bite. Time to shift gears...

I'm working on a book review, I have two chapters to revise, and I need to get the strewn papers and finals out of my apartment and into my office because D will be making a visit this weekend. (Yay!)

So far the book is pretty good; it's a well-written biography with a handsome young 1920s lawyer on the cover. He's wearing a hat and suit and has that clear-eyed look you don't see much these days, but which seemed so common in that era. It's hard to describe -- it's a sort of calm competence that says "I can change the world, if I only put my mind to it."

I need to get me some of that.

posted by Rana | 5/28/2003 11:39:00 AM Permalink

Monday, May 26, 2003


The Paths Go Up and Down

Life flares up, like a forest fire,
Flames of aggravation licking the treetops,
All vision obscured by a flame of red.

Then the cool dank mist descends,
Streaming around the tall redwoods,
Milky, bitter tasting, like tears and rot.

Is that a thin ray of light I see?
It weaves its way through the shadowed heights
Blessing the ground like an absence of pain.

The world spins around on its axis
Sometimes in light, sometimes in shadow
Some days we are ravens, other days, frogs.

* * *

I may take tomorrow off from blogging, if I can manage to tear myself away. It's hard on the eye to stare at a screen this much, and I do have other things that need doing. It's also not like I haven't been writing enough online, both here and on various comment lists.

posted by Rana | 5/26/2003 05:18:00 PM Permalink


Sucky Timing

I should note, as an addendum to the preceding entry, that I am not intrinsically opposed to learning a new set of professional skills, whether through experience or by going back to school. It is just that the timing is wretched for that sort of thing.

First, most obviously, I will need a job in a few months. Little time for learning a new career, there! So it is pretty obvious that on that front, at least, most of this talk of skill sets is moot. My probable employers in the short term will be more interested in knowing if I can type and file alphabetically and have used a computer than if I can do original research, discuss and assess complex environmental theory, and can distill this into a form that undergraduates can digest.

In the long run, re-credentialing may well prove necessary. But here's the second rub -- I would like to have "adult" things like a family and a home I don't have to move out of in one or two years. I would like to live in the same city as my boyfriend. But currently I am too "unstable" to even manage having a cat or even a low maintenance pet like a fish. The thought of deferring having a "real" life for more years while I gain enough experience and credentials to be employed in a stable and rewarding field is daunting, to say the least.

I've always been a late bloomer, but I've never felt the pain of it quite so much as now. One should go through all of this in your twenties when you're young enough that people expect you to be inexperienced and forgive you for it, so that when you have learned enough for stable employment, it is not too late for things like houses, spouses and families and pets. I fear that taking more time to establish myself in a second career will come at the expense of time needed to develop a stable personal life, but if I focus on my personal life instead, how will I be able to afford the time and poverty that will come with trying to recreate myself from scratch?

I put life off in order to get through graduate school, and now, it seems, I'm screwed no matter what I do.


posted by Rana | 5/26/2003 04:00:00 PM Permalink


Errors in Translation

Invisible Adjunct has posted some interesting commentary on the issue of skill sets, the PhD and the difficulties of transferring academic skills to the "real" world. (I have got to come up with a better phrase for the world that is not academe. "Corporate world" doesn't work, nor does "business world" or "the real world." It is the world that is outside of the ivory tower, but how to say that in a concise, pithy manner? Ah, hell, I'm a wordy creature anyway... what does it matter?)

It makes me think of one time I did actually find an online site that allowed you to quiz yourself on both your interests and your existing skills. (I'll try to find the URL for it.) These are my "best" results:

Number Of Matched Skills Occupation Title
77.8% (21/27) Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates
77.4% (24/31) Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary
76.3% (29/38) Computer Science Teachers, Postsecondary
63.2% (24/38) Audiologists
63.2% (24/38) Speech-Language Pathologists
62.9% (22/35) Veterinarians
62.5% (20/32) Urban and Regional Planners
61.8% (21/34) Educational Psychologists
61.1% (22/36) Compensation, Benefits, and Job Analysis Specialists
60.0% (21/35) Compensation and Benefits Managers
60.0% (21/35) Human Resources Managers
58.8% (20/34) Chemistry Teachers, Postsecondary
57.9% (22/38) Dietitians and Nutritionists
57.1% (20/35) Engineering Teachers, Postsecondary
55.6% (20/36) Computer Programmers
55.6% (20/36) Public Relations Specialists
55.3% (21/38) Civil Engineers
55.3% (21/38) Epidemiologists
55.3% (21/38) Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists
54.1% (20/37) Art Directors
54.1% (20/37) Chemical Engineers
54.1% (20/37) Family and General Practitioners
54.1% (20/37) Internists, General
54.1% (20/37) Obstetricians and Gynecologists
54.1% (20/37) Pediatricians, General
52.6% (20/38) Marine Engineers
52.5% (21/40) Municipal Fire Fighting and Prevention Supervisors

Now, a quick scan of the above "matches" should reveal just how weird this process is. The first thing that I observe upon looking it over is that each of these requires not only experience in the field, but specialized training. If you wanted a doctor, would you hire someone who'd never gone to med school?

Okay, so how about we take a look at the actual skills employed on a day-to-day basis in my current role as an assistant professor of history and environmental studies. What sort of matches might turn up here? Let's see...

Number Of Matched Skills Occupation Title
88.9% (8/9) Interpreters and Translators
88.6% (31/35) History Teachers, Postsecondary
80.8% (21/26) Philosophy and Religion Teachers, Postsecondary
80.6% (25/31) Sociology Teachers, Postsecondary
80.0% (24/30) Economics Teachers, Postsecondary
80.0% (16/20) Political Science Teachers, Postsecondary
78.6% (22/28) English Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary
78.6% (22/28) Foreign Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary
78.6% (22/28) Social Work Teachers, Postsecondary
78.1% (25/32) Geography Teachers, Postsecondary
77.8% (21/27) Library Science Teachers, Postsecondary
77.4% (24/31) Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary
75.0% (21/28) Architecture Teachers, Postsecondary
75.0% (15/20) Graduate Teaching Assistants
75.0% (6/8) Proofreaders and Copy Markers

Again, this is just silly. I will buy the idea that someday, if I worked at it, I could teach geography instead of history. But if I were to make the switch today? Again, this is not a matter of experience or lack thereof; this is a matter of inappropriate credentials. Yes, I could teach library science if I drove myself mad with the preparations, and might be better at conveying the material to students than someone who'd never taught, but any institution that would hire me to do this and not a bona fide library specialist would be foolish beyond belief.

Note, too, that I am apparently a better match for a field I've never worked in and am not qualified for -- translation -- than the one I've been spending the last four years at.

Moral of story, I suppose -- don't expect computer-based skills tests to be at all applicable to real-world situations.

Second moral of story: academics who are trying to negotiate the transition out of the ivory tower will seize at any little thing that promises guidance, because we are woefully inexperienced at this sort of thing.

posted by Rana | 5/26/2003 03:26:00 PM Permalink

Sunday, May 25, 2003


Gift Culture and Wealth Culture

How apropos. The Happy Tutor has posed an interesting question about the role of places like academia in the negotiation of values between what he calls "wealth culture" and its counterpart, "gift culture," and the implications for or in the context of a democratic society. Worth checking out...

posted by Rana | 5/25/2003 03:42:00 PM Permalink


Commencement-Induced Melancholia

Today was graduation, or "commencement." It's always a little odd, as a member of the faculty, to listen to the speakers telling the seniors that they are now about to join "the real world" or to experience "real life." This time it was also rather bittersweet. I felt caught between two worlds; that of the faculty who stay and that of the students who leave. Unlike the students' departure, however, a young faculty member's leavetaking evokes concern and queries instead of congratulations and exuberant celebration.

For all my frustrations with the job market, and with teaching, I really don't want to leave this world. It is my home, flawed though it is. I understand the people who live in this world; even when they are being petty or selfish it is a kind of pettiness I can comprehend. As a day-to-day job, too, it's pretty good; the hours are flexible, the colleagues interesting, the work valuable and ethically sound, there is room for growth... It also has the value of being a true vocation, a calling, rather than something I do to get by. Granted, I'm more of a researcher at heart than a teacher, but I'm willing to do the latter in exchange for support of freedom in the former and the privilege of grinning my fool head off as 38 of "my" seniors step up to the podium at commencement.

But this is becoming an oft-repeated song and dance. Like it or not, I've been pushed from the nest this year, to try and make my own way in the "real" world. Maybe I'll succeed. Maybe I'll find some new calling even more rewarding and compelling than academia. I have a hard time imagining such a life, though. I can imagine a brave new career, and even get excited by it. But if I leave academia, I know I will also always mourn that lost life. I will regret it. I know this in the same way that I knew I was in the right place when I set foot on my small undergraduate campus, looked around, and thought "Here are my people" -- the nerds, the intellectuals, the geeks, the bespectacled-and-proud-of-it, the grad-students-and-professors-in-training. I know this in the same way I knew when I was choosing a major and suddenly thought, "... or I could be a damn good historian."

I don't want to leave, and I know I will regret leaving.

But then, it's not like I've been a choice.

posted by Rana | 5/25/2003 03:09:00 PM Permalink

Saturday, May 24, 2003


Identity Crisis -- The Blog's, Not Mine

This blog is now a little over two weeks old, and it seems like it might be time to think about its future.

I've been musing over questions of content and voice as I've been wandering through the blogosphere, visiting other sites and learning which blogs I like.

There are some with clearly defined topics and voices, like Invisible Adjunct's; these sites have some flexibility, but you go to them with the assumption that you know what you'll find there. There are ones with wider topical ranges (though still able to be organized into a defined range of categories) like Dorothea's or Burningbird's or the Happy Tutor's, which rest on a combination of strong voice and topics that are interesting but not random. There are ones that are primarily a collection of links, observations, quotations, and the like, often with a political bent -- Tom Tomorrow's and Adam Felber's sites fall into this category -- these rise and fall on the pithiness of the observations, the regularity of the posts, and the extensiveness of the links. Finally, there are sites like Lilek's Bleat, which focus primarily on the life of the author, with occasional interjections of other topics, and which rely on the author's skill and personal interest to attract and keep an audience. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of blog types, but these seem to be the forms which most appeal to me.

I think I can rule out the links-and-observations style as a dominant mode. I am certainly happy to link when linking is warranted, but it's a lot of work done on a regular basis. The most successful of these also tend to have a clear political voice and topical focus. I have the former, but I don't think I have much to add on that front; I'm happier reading others' witty comments and analysis. (I also lack the background to do a good job identifying discrepancies.) The latter also seems difficult for me to sustain; I'm too scatterbrained to sustain a continued line of inquiry. So rule out IA's approach, too. The Bleat is delightful, but, again, it doesn't feel like me. My life is often quite boring in the details -- eat, read, grade, eat, ride bike, read, eat, talk on phone, sleep -- or involves other people I've promised not to discuss in these pages without their permission. Unlike Lileks, I lack a cute daughter (or even a pet) to natter about, and I don't think my writing skills are up to making the mundanity of my life entertaining.

So, I guess it's the personal-interests-and-observations-divided-into-categories mode. What will be tricky is figuring out what the core categories would be. The list of current interests in my life is always a smaller subset of my interests overall. While the large list is fairly stable, it's long and I tend to be obsessive in streaks, so what I'm preoccupied one month may be significantly different than my interests a month later. Some things are stable enough to persist, though, so maybe they could form the core of my blogging. Observe:

Interest list overall: academia; American West; animals; archival research; art; badminton; bicycle riding; blogging; book reviewing; cats; camping; canoeing; ceramics; dance; digital image manipulation; drawing; dying yarn; editing manuscript; environmental ethics, theory, activism; foreign languages; guitar; hiking; history; journaling; knitting; martial arts; Morris dancing; photography; plants; poetry; politics (liberal, green); reading; recorder; science fiction/fantasy; sculpture; singing; spinning (wool); swap meets; teaching; traveling; writing; unitarian universalism; yoga... and that's just what I can come up with at the moment!

Current interest list: yoga, grading, looking for work outside of academia, reconceiving myself, blogging, bike riding, book reviewing, manuscript revision.

Perhaps an "about me" page would be a good place to stow all of this, if I can figure out how to create one?

The other thing I need to mull over is voice. Largely I've been writing as if to myself with someone looking occasionally over my shoulder. Do I want to continue this? Do I want to acknowledge that observer more directly? Do I want to ask them questions or offer them topics for discussion? (Of course, the last question presumes that I have an audience large enough to make that worth doing!) But all of this is a topic for another post.

posted by Rana | 5/24/2003 02:26:00 PM Permalink


More Joy

Observe the newest addition to the site: two noble ravens, courtesy of the Canadian Government.

I'm not quite happy with their placement -- my coding skills are not yet up to placing them to the left of both the title and the subtitle, with both of those aligned roughly at the midpoint of the image -- but it will do for now, especially since the ravens, though I quite like them, are themselves placeholders. After I've moved and started a new internet account, I want to store some of my own images for posting. I have vague ideas about hand-drawn then scanned sketches combining both frogs and ravens, but haven't gotten around to making actual sketches yet.

posted by Rana | 5/24/2003 12:44:00 PM Permalink


HTML Newbie Joy

It is amazing how much time I can spend tinkering around with the look of this site. Mildly obsessive-compulsive? Yes...

(Ask my friends some time about how annoying I am about unevenly hung pictures and unaligned silverware in restaurants.)

In my usual haphazard way, I'm working off the existing models provided by the standard template I chose. I feel rather proud of myself, though -- today I learned what it means to create a "font class" and how to use it. What a time saver!

posted by Rana | 5/24/2003 09:48:00 AM Permalink

Friday, May 23, 2003


More Haikus

And to reward those of you who keep patiently coming back despite all the grumping and poor-me-ing, some haikus...

Out of work shortly
Moving to a new abode
But my eye feels good!

Poor yogini, she
Forms a tough new asana:
New Identity.

Many comments posted
Here, there, on so many sites
Where did I say this?

Too many parents
Many anxious graduates
Full lots -- better ride bike!

It is late tonight
Typing is easy and quick
Blog is way too long!

posted by Rana | 5/23/2003 10:09:00 PM Permalink


The other thing about all this is how easily it is to slip into a sort of whiny, passive ineptitude. ("Fix it for me!")

This is undoubtedly a reaction to what is probably the worst thing about the whole experience -- the shift from being a confident participant in a world I know well to a confused and ignorant outsider trying to adapt to a new set of rules and expectations. Add in the feeling that there must be some better way to make the shift, if only I knew about it, and it's a mess!

Well, if nothing else this will give me further insight into one of my professional interests -- how human beings and human cultures either adapt to new situations or adapt those situations to fit their expectations. I hadn't planned on being part of my own study group!

posted by Rana | 5/23/2003 09:21:00 PM Permalink



One thing that keeps coming up as I explore the world of non-academic careers is how ignorant I am of that world. I feel like I have only the vaguest sense of the variety of career options that exist out there; I think in broad terms of stereotypes I've seen in movies, or of people I've encountered in stores or the like, or people I've seen working in the course of doing something else. But how do I know what would be interesting to me? Phrased another way -- how do I find a career that matches what I know I like and can do?

Seems pretty basic, I know. But it is really starting to bug me that I don't have much clue as to what I would, indeed, like to do outside of academia. Something with writing would be good -- but what would that be? (Would it be good?) I know people write for magazines, but how does one get to do that? What are the rules for getting in? Would I want to do the kind of writing such a position would entail? What are the other contexts in which people write things and get paid for it? Or research -- I like doing archival research, and I do know that some historical research firms exist out there. But do I want to do corporate research for someone else? Something environmental would be interesting, but what would that be? Etc. etc.

I'm used to knowing the options, rhetoric, culture, procedures, etc. of looking for work in academia. I know the questions to ask, the things to worry or be joyful about, what places to seek out or avoid, the appropriate gestures in the dance between committee and candidate, etc. I know the difference between applying for work in history versus environmental studies, for example, and the drawbacks and benefits of both. When I look beyond the ivory tower, I feel incredibly stupid.

For example: three apparently essential and expected practices in the non-academic world -- sending thank yous after interviews, contacting people at the target company in the hopes that they may be able to create a position for you, and checking in regularly with the hiring parties for updates and to show your continuing interest -- are annoying and unproductive in academia.

I suppose the thing to do is just jump in and get my feet wet and keep my eyes open for something interesting. I do wish that there was a more systematic way to approach the issue than simple blind chance. If I don't know what I want, or what is available, how can I sell someone else on hiring me?

Again, I suspect that there must be solutions to these problems; I can't be the only person who has asked such things. But I've forgotten -- if I ever knew -- where to begin looking for the answers!

posted by Rana | 5/23/2003 09:15:00 PM Permalink


Selling Oneself to Different Audiences

I was looking over my resume (does anyone know how to code accent marks so that computers other than Macs can read them? I'm tired of feeling like I'm writing "ree-zoom" instead of "reh-zoo-may") this morning and thinking about what I've emphasized. I was trying to see it through the eyes of an employer, in other words.

What I saw was confusion, so I tried to figure out what exactly made it give that impression. I think it boils down to three things: first, parts of it look like an academic c.v. still, so that sends mixed messages. Second, it looks very high-powered for an entry-level position -- especially of the types I'll likely get as a temp. Third, there is virtually no formal employment experience to correlate with those skills. Over-qualified and under-experienced, apparently. Heh.

One message was that I was in possession of fairly specialized knowledge of research procedures, archive types, and source materials. Yet my listing of employment didn't seem to jibe with this -- it was a litany of reader/assistant/instructor/lecturer/professor. (Plus none of those lasted for more than 3 years.) So: first change: invent a job title to deal with the research end of things: how about "Freelance Historian -- Research and Analysis"?

Next was a variety of technical skills -- knowledge of computer programs from the old stand-bys MSWord and Excel to a handful of graphics and database programs (including web design) to more specialized ones like ArcView for GIS; hands-on technical skills related to photography, drawing and digital image manipulation; and this is all cross-platform -- I prefer Mac but I can make PCs dance if not dance and sing. Again, to an outsider, there is no clear connection between this and my employment record. How do I leap this gap? Do I write an explanatory paragraph or do I dream up another new job title? Would something like "Information Management Specialist -- Self-Employed" work?

A related section deals with my writing and analytical skills, notably the papers I have written and my book reviews. Shall I call myself something like "Independent Book Reviewer" or would this still work as part of one of the previous two?

(The dodgy thing about inventing these titles is, unfortunately, that although I did do these things as part of my professional life, no one has actually ever paid me for them. At least for the book reviews I can claim to have been working for a "client.")

Then there is a cluster of skills related to presenting information to an audience: experience with PowerPoint, SmartCart computer projection systems, slide projectors, boardwork, good speaking skills, several papers presented at conferences, not to mention all the time in the classroom. Here the link to my employment record is more easily seen; I can probably leave this alone.

Another clump centers around teaching and evaluative skills: curricular design; assessing student work; career counseling; designing exams, assignments and instructional materials; mentoring. Again, pretty straightforward, though I'd need to explain why a particular employer would find this useful.

A related grouping deals with what could be called management skills: overseeing student graders, directing class projects, mediating tensions within student project teams, managing workshops, overseeing student presentations and classroom dynamics, monitoring both large group discussions and multiple small group discussions. Again, the list of previous positions held should fit in.

What's rather weird about this list, I realize, is that it's only the last three clusters that are the ones I've been paid to do; the first ones are all things that I've pursued on my own out of interest or desire to make myself more marketable. Hmm...

posted by Rana | 5/23/2003 10:14:00 AM Permalink

Thursday, May 22, 2003


Transferable Skills

Tim Burke has some interesting things to say today about academia, corporatization and the value of a PhD beyond the ivory tower.

He writes: "My piggy-backing on other people�s blogs continues: this time, I�m responding to Michele Tepper�s essay �Doctor Outsider�, which I found via Invisible Adjunct.

Tepper nails the snobbery of the academy dead on in one respect. There is no doubt that most academics regard the pursuit of careers outside the academy by ABDs or Ph.Ds to be a sign of failure or mental breakdown.

There is so much bundled up in that reaction. For one, the academic fear of irrelevance, coupled with an equal and opposite pride in the ethereal virtue of being outside the world of everyday life. For another, the confusion about desirable outcomes, the difficulty of figuring out how graduate school culminates in the anomie of the tenured life.

What I think Tepper does not properly credit is that many academics express distress at a Ph.D in the humanities and social sciences choosing a career besides academia is that they�re thinking like utility maximizers. Privately, they�re asking, 'Why invest the time in doing a doctorate when most of the post-academic careers that one could choose do not require or benefit from having a doctorate?'"

Indeed. This is the most frustrating part about finding myself at the tag end of a failed job search. There are things I don't like about academia. But there are (or at least there have been) many more things that I do like about it. One of those is knowing that I am in the right place for my skills, interests and training. (Though this year's been an exception, in that my teaching has been the main facet of my professional existence, and it is research in which I find the most joy.)

As I look beyond the ivory tower, I am hoping that not only will I find personal satisfaction in my work, but I will be doing work that makes having a doctorate in history and experience in environmental studies valuable. Currently, it's hard not to say "$1.50 and a PhD will get you a nice cup of tea" (if it doesn't scare people off entirely -- the professional equivalent of being tagged the "smart kid" and having to play dumb to avoid being teased -- one reason why I love academia is that it doesn't bother people if you use "big" words while dishing about American Idol).

As I've said before (in comments, and in life), what I want is a translator that tells me where my professional academic skills can be used if not in academe.

posted by Rana | 5/22/2003 05:16:00 PM Permalink


Likes and Dislikes

One of the books I checked out recommends beginning by brainstorming lists of everything you like and don't like doing. I did this and figured I'd go one further and look for the larger patterns I found (see "I like organizing data, sorting it, and manipulating it to see the relationships between different variables" below). I haven't bothered to sort these observations further, but at least now I have an overview of things to consider.

Summary of Things I Like

I like finding out new information and mastering new skills.

I like solving problems, especially problems that others have been unable to find solutions for.

I like to evaluate presentations and arguments for their ability to successfully and clearly present their information.

I myself like to present information in the clearest, most appealing way possible.

I like being able to choose a task or goal myself and to receive support for doing so.

I like tasks that have clear endings.

I like things that continually challenge and engage my attention; I like being able to rotate through several tasks as my attention waxes and wanes.

I like helping people figure out how to do something, or how to do it for them.

I like explaining things to people and offering them advice and solutions.

I like reading and writing.

I like assessing others� ideas and explaining my own.

I like playing with graphics and making them clear and visually appealing, both on paper and in the form of websites and computer graphics.

I like organizing data, sorting it, and manipulating it to see the relationships between different variables.

I like having expertise that others do not, and need.

I like receiving positive feedback about my work.

I like working with people, but not as anonymous groups or strangers; I want to be able to have a sense of knowing them.

I have good spatial skills, both in terms of design and interpretation.

I like arranging things into pleasing and efficient layouts, both in the physical world and graphically and textually.

I like animals (especially cats) and the outdoors.

I like working both with text and with images.

Summary of Things I Don't

(Interestingly, I ended up framing most of these as a "wish list" for future employment. I had a hard time here coming up with specific things I disliked doing -- it was a more a matter of the conditions under which I would be doing them.)

{edit} Except for sales. I hate sales. My worst job memories include being forced to go door-to-door with expensive candy bars as a kid, working in a department store fitting room (ever try mediating between an opinionated teenage daughter and her mother-with-the-money?), and sitting through a spiel on how I could make money selling knives to preferred customers (I'd misunderstood the job ad on that one.) I also hate dealing with car salespeople, overeager store clerks, and anyone else working on schmooze commisions. Oddly, I don't have the same distaste for advertising.

I am easily bored; I don�t like working to a routine, especially if the routine is not challenging or seems lacking a clear point or goal.

I don�t like other people telling me what to do without explanations of why it is necessary, because I feel it insults my intelligence and reduces my ability to find and apply my own solutions to a problem.

I need clear goals, but I want the freedom to reach them in my own way.

I want to be praised for doing a good job, and I want my work to receive public recognition.

I don�t want to be enclosed in a small, confined space, nor do I want to do the same things over and over again.

I want the opportunities to see and do new things, and to do several of them at once if I like.

I want to have input into matters affecting me and my ability to do my work.

I want work that challenges my skills, and colleagues who respect my intelligence, knowledge and abilities.

While I can work with others, I would rather depend more on myself to get things done.

I don�t want a job where I have to try to persuade people to do something that they have not already expressed an interest in; I don�t want a job where my responsibility is to force people into something.

posted by Rana | 5/22/2003 11:30:00 AM Permalink


I'm taking a day off from grading, though the weather is not cooperating with my hopes for a long bike ride in the country.

I checked out a better job book from the library yesterday; this one is geared towards Gen-Xers trying to figure out what to do in a tight market while looking for a job that is rewarding personally as well as in terms of money. The first task, which I rather like, is to list out everything you like doing (with a work focus, but not exclusively) then what you don't. Fun!

Only problem, though -- handwriting is so freaking slow, and I'm not sure my eye is up to more screen time. Maybe I will go on that bike ride after all. How wet can I get?

posted by Rana | 5/22/2003 09:53:00 AM Permalink


Into the Greenwood

Well, I'm about to log out after a bout of blog-hopping (eye is tired from staring at a laptop screen), but I wanted to follow up on something Dorothea posted today in response to some comments over at the Happy Tutor's. This latest bit of practical whimsy is to create a sort of Robin-Hood-esque band of merry pranksters allied against the idiocies of academia. She's nominated the Invisible Adjunct for the bandleader and suggested that I might do as a sidekick.

Okay -- but only if I get to be the comic relief sidekick who occasionally makes an astoundingly pithy observation. Otherwise, I'd rather be someone like Alan A'Dale -- in on the action, but singing instead of fighting -- or the insider court jester who passes messages and takes impish swipes at the profession. I offer my ability to play the recorder and hop on one foot while wearing regalia and a silly hat as my credentials. (On the other hand, I can swing a mean bo, and my yoga biceps are nothing to scoff at, so some down and dirty action isn't entirely ruled out.)

I'm not so sure about being "Little Rana" though. I'm built more like a long-legged leopard frog than a little compact spring peeper. :)

posted by Rana | 5/22/2003 09:38:00 AM Permalink

Wednesday, May 21, 2003


Spritzing the Fire

I hate iritis. For those of you unfamiliar with this malady, it's an inflamation of the iris that causes an achy or scratchy feeling in the eye (eventually developing into extreme pain if untreated), blurriness of vision, and sensitivity to light.

Most times they have no idea what causes it -- it's not a response to an infection, like conjunctivitis -- but the few cases with clearly identifiable causes link it to autoimmune disorders like lupus or latent viral infections like herpes. They don't know what is causing mine, and no bloodwork is likely unless it recurs (most cases are one-time deals -- fingers crossed!).

It's treated with dilating drops and topical steroids at the start, then only the steroids (advanced cases may require getting shots!). The problem is that it isn't like a bacterial infection, where you can kill the germs and have done with it. Instead, the metaphor my two doctors have both used is that it is like a smouldering fire -- you have to dowse it first, then keep spritzing it periodically until it goes completely out. If you ease up too much on the spritzing (or rate of eye drops) it can flare up again. (The chemicals used to treat it are pretty powerful, so you don't want to use them more than necessary.)

That's where I'm at. It was getting better, I spaced the drops out too much, and now it's back. For what it's worth, I think stress plays a large part in this. My body is fond of experimenting with new ways to call attention to the fact that it's stressed -- cramps, panic attacks, headaches, tingling and achy fingers and toes, hives, and now this. The only hopeful thing is that each "experiment" tends to be short-lived; I quickly recognize that I'm not suffering from some horrible ailment and quickly learn to ignore the message my body is sending me. So it has to come up with a new one.

Not healthy, no. Here's hoping I can manage to have less stress next year. (Ah, for a calm, boring, well-paying temp job...)

posted by Rana | 5/21/2003 10:44:00 AM Permalink


Another Spit-Take on Job Advice

So this morning I was reading the business section over breakfast and began skimming the "Corporate Curmudgeon" column. The topic was how being overly logical can lead one to miss out on interesting opportunities. Okay, I thought. I can see that. But then we get to his example:

"Because I didn't remember advising her not to go back to school, I asked her to recall her situation and her thinking, and I reprint part of it here, a cautionary tale for anyone considering going back to school or for anyone who is contemplating going in search of the new by pursuing the obvious.

She says: "Ten years ago, I had just been fired in a particularly disturbing and messy way from a well-paying job. I'd kind of gotten used to my corner office with the big, comfy chair with levers and swivels and a big picture window looking out over the world. Not to mention the regular paycheck. I wanted to do something that would engage me fully, lift me out of the doldrums, present a new challenge.

"Then it hit me. I would go back to school. I would study medieval Italian history! I would enroll in the University of Arizona again and get a master's degree. I would get to have all those conversations I'd already had, write all those papers I'd already written, spend all those weekends cramming for exams that were ultimately meaningless.

"But that was OK. I would have a master's degree! People would take me more seriously. I would get some kind of cool historical research job, maybe in Italy. ""

He then goes on to say

"In this economy, like all economies, there are plenty of people who want to "be lifted out of the doldrums." They want something new and exciting, and they look for a logical answer. They don't know that they are suffering from excessive rationality, so the only solution seems to be to take a reasoned, rational view of change. School is logical, but then again, logic is the enemy, and a cruelly unreasonable one."

I did a spit take on two counts. First is the notion that going on to graduate school is "logical." As Dorothea and Invisible Adjunct and many others have noted, the current job market for academic PhDs is miserable and grad school is a hard and soul-trying experience even at its best. So it is actually more logical, not less, at least in business terms, for this woman to look for another variation of her boring but comfortable job.

Second is the reason why Dauten questions her "logic" -- he thinks that grad school would be a poor place to reinvent oneself. Okay, not a bad piece of advice. But it seems that a larger problem is not what grad school can do for this woman, but what it can't.

I mean really -- "I would have a master's degree! People would take me more seriously. I would get some kind of cool historical research job, maybe in Italy. " This is what I would have challenged her on, not whether her choice was "logical" or not. Clearly, this woman has no idea of what it means to be in grad school, or what the likely outcome of it is. This seems to me like a disaster in the making.

While I'm glad Dauten did discourage her from taking this step, I'm disappointed at his reasons for doing so. Here was a chance to call attention to a current crisis in the job market, and he turns it into a snappy little lesson on following your bliss.

posted by Rana | 5/21/2003 09:43:00 AM Permalink

Tuesday, May 20, 2003


I'm feeling tired and the grading's stacking up (senior grades due in 24 hours -- no, 17!) so I'm going to be a bit lazy here. But go to Invisible Adjunct's site today; she needs some cheering up. If you want more info on the f***ed up ness that academia can manifest, go to Dorothea's site and follow the links. The Happy Tutor's postings are worth reading.

posted by Rana | 5/20/2003 04:13:00 PM Permalink


Okay, calmer now. It's not that the situation's improved, but that I've had a nap and some food. Amazing what a difference brain chemistry makes. I'll do well to remember that, I think, as the only thing that's going to get me through this is to maintain a positive attitude. This doesn't mean I become a doormat or a pollyana, but rather recognize that I am dealing with forces larger than myself and not let the fuse get too short too often. Then I'll have the energy to act when something better comes along.

posted by Rana | 5/20/2003 02:49:00 PM Permalink


Unhelpful Advice

Heh. I was just browing through the Chronicle of Higher Education's job forums. One of the threads on the leaving academe forum, "Advice to Job Seekers," while meant to be offering reassuring practical advice, has failed to do so. Both posters beside myself extol the virtues of networking and internships. I can see this. This makes sense. However, both seem to be woefully unaware of how impractical the latter really is if you are already dealing with financial problems and no immediate in-field job prospects.

Chris writes "First, take anything you can get that is related to what you want to do -- remember it is not forever." On one level, I find that somewhat useful advice -- I fully expect that I'll need to serve time in entry level work before moving up. However, there are two problems here -- first is that it assumes that you know what field you want to be in (I don't! arrgh!) and second that there are other considerations beyond experience to take into account -- income, for example, and health insurance! Basically, I literally cannot afford to "take anything."

This brings me to the second poster, who responded to my question about the pay/benefits issue and about finding internships not geared to just-out-of-college BAs. He (?) offers a lot of what is potentially useful advice about things to think about in terms of your job goals (though I had to cry/laugh when he asked "What geographic considerations are important to you? Climate? Culture? Intellectual life? Art? Old architecture? Access to watersports? Public transportation? Access to an international airport?" Being able to choose -- what a concept!). His suggestions about researching companies beforehand are also good.

However... it's the "Working toward the internship" section of his advice that worries me. Somehow, I do not feel like I am a member of the audience he envisioned.

One, there's the assumption that I have a "a trusted business contact" ready at hand. Um, no. If I did, don't you think I'd be asking them for advice instead of an anonymous message board?

Two, the question " Is there something already in your work that can connect you to your places of interest?" is virtually meaningless when it comes to making a leap from academia to the corporate world. We don't have much awareness of that outside work world -- that's the problem.

Three, "Do you have vacation time available?" is a clear sign that he's not thinking of a faculty audience. (Although his advice about using un-scheduled paid time to explore options is not bad.) It also suggests that he is assuming that one does indeed have a job, which will not be the case when I have to make the switch.

And so to point four (with a pause for another point -- he writes "Collaborations between faculty, service organizations, and business are really quite natural and not infrequent." Um, not in my field...): he concludes by asking

"As for the internships with "no or low pay and no benefits," it is important to weigh your priorities. How much do you want to migrate to this new field? How long should your internship be to gain enough experience? Make these calculations in advance and set aside the necessary funds as part of the planning process. If you are presently in a faculty position, seriously consider using time off to work in such a setting after having set aside the necessary funding and made health-insurance arrangements to sustain you during this "no-pay re-training period." You are making an investment in your future and future happiness."

I read this and I was rather stunned. This seems to completely negate the reasoning behind my initial query. Can I spell it out for people like this? I . Have . Very . Little . Money . NOW. After two months, I . Will . Have . No . Job . At . All.

I can't stay in my current area even if I wanted to, and I am already worried enough about having enough money to make the move and convince a new landlord that I'm not a credit risk. This is NOT something I "planned"; if all had gone according to plan, I would not be looking for another job. I have stress related medical issues. I have insurance payments, student loans, rent, etc. etc. which are not going to go away.

This is NOT a matter of "how much I want to migrate." This is a matter of basic survival. While I take his larger point about keeping one's eyes on the larger picture, this is not very useful (or thoughtful) advice for someone forced into a new career.

I like Dorothea's advice much better (see comments for May 19): temp for a small company and learn as much as you can, and then see where you can go from there.
It's practical, and she appreciates my current situation.

I'm trying not to be bitter, but it's hard!

posted by Rana | 5/20/2003 11:01:00 AM Permalink

Monday, May 19, 2003


A Question -- Why Is Grading So Tedious?

I've been wondering this as I find myself slogging through my pile of student projects, finding endless excuses not to read them. I like the students, their topics are not uninteresting (some arguments are even quite intriguing) and, while time-consuming, it's not really that difficult a task.

There. That's it, I suspect. Grading is not sufficiently challenging. Or, rather, it's challenging, but primarily in terms of self-discipline and staying focused. I rarely have trouble any more figuring out what is wrong with a project or paper and figuring out how to explain it to the student who produced it. The ideas they offer are often solid and worth considering, but oh so rarely step off into new ground, so I as a learner don't get much out of the experience. The problems of putting together a successful argument seem general; most students exhibit some variant of the usual lot (failure to link theses to evidence, awkward organization, inappropriate evidence, inadequate citation... etc.) so it's usually pretty easy to figure out what needs to be addressed. Occasionally a student exhibits a spark of originality either in thought or error and I become interested again, but that is so rare!

I guess what I'm saying is, that as far as grading is concerned, I'm not learning much of anything new. I'm therefore somewhat bored by the process, and so it becomes a chore, not an enticing activity. I suppose one approach would be to assign much weirder, innovative assignments that require me to think up an assessment process as I go along -- but I'm not sure how fair that is to the students. Another possibility might be to focus more on assignments that result more in stories than arguments -- but I would argue that a good story requires much of the same discipline in terms of choosing examples, laying out the sequence of parts, etc. so I'm not sure if that would be different enough.

I'd also much rather talk with students one-on-one about their ideas and how they could play with them than to have them boil those sparking thoughts into a paper, then boil the paper down even further into a grade. What to do...

In some ways I think it will be nice to "escape" teaching for a while. I believe that I am reasonably competent at it, but it has never been my first (or even second or third) love. When I think about what makes me happy (to follow the advice of one of those job guides) it is making things, figuring out tricky problems (especially mechanical, computer, and theoretical), manipulating data (I can spend hours happily messing around with my grading spreadsheets) and sitting in an archive for hours tracking down obscure sources. One book typed me as a "problem solver" and that seems about right. The thing with grading, then, is that the problems have become too easy, like doing the Monday (easiest) crossword after you've had the satisfaction of completing Saturday (hardest) ones on a regular basis. So... new problems are needed!

Another question: where will I find such problems?

posted by Rana | 5/19/2003 12:32:00 PM Permalink

Sunday, May 18, 2003


Reasons to Be and Stay in Grad School

Dorothea raises some interesting points this week about grad school and the sorts of people who should -- or should not -- be in it. I think they dovetail nicely with our comment-discussion started by my post of 17 May about figuring out what one is good for. My experience was that I always assumed that I would go to grad school and get a doctorate; I hadn't the foggiest idea as a child what that meant or what the doctorate would be in, but it was just part of my basic assumptions about life. Dorothea's experience was that other people always assumed that she would go to grad school and get a doctorate. In both our cases, I think, the whole question of why, exactly, this would be a necessary and appropriate thing to do was never really answered.

I went into grad school in no small part because I was unable to think of doing office work (my previous job experience) as a way to support myself full time (oh, the irony!) and because I feared that my brain would seize up if I stopped going to school. (I still sometimes think this; I may be more interesting now, but I feel less "sharp" than I did in grad school.) Once in, I think that I stayed simply because I was stubborn.

It's the tradition of the department I earned my degree in (I started to write "received my degree from" but that didn't seem right!) that you begin your dissertation defense with a brief speech about how you got to that point. I was very hard-pressed to not go with my first, somewhat bitter impulse, which was to lay my success at the feet of stubbornly resisting those who challenged me. I stayed in the program not least because one professor told me my first year -- on a paper I'd worked hard enough on to include nervous palpitations -- that I didn't have what it took to be a historian, and I had to prove her wrong. Then I went with my research project because, again, someone doubted that it could be done. And on, and on.

In other words, although I did enjoy much about grad school (though more in my directed readings and outside the department classes) and still miss the spirited discussions and long talks with my fellow grads, my reasons to stay in were essentially negative -- I didn't know what else to do, and other people thought I couldn't or shouldn't do it. Although this seems like the opposite of Dorothea's experience in some ways, it seems equally unhealthy!

posted by Rana | 5/18/2003 09:20:00 AM Permalink


More grading. Finals come in this week, and it'd be nice to hand back end-of-term work when the students come by to drop off their exams. Plus, senior grades are due 24 hours after the final (heaven help those faculty with large senior classes) so the deck needs to be cleared before then.

It's not too bad, though; I'm down to the better papers and on to the web and multi-media projects. The latter are more time-consuming to grade, but in some ways more interesting. It's difficult to contemplate the stylistic implications of one font over another in a paper, but in a web page, such details actually do make a difference in the way that information is transmitted.

This is one reason why having inadequate coding skills myself and being limited therefore to working with BlogSpot's templates is a bit frustrating; I like being able to tweak all little bits so that my ideas are expressed as I want them... Though there is also the issue of whether the software on the receiving end will translate my intentions properly; this is why my professional website elsewhere is so low on bells and whistles -- it loads fast and there's less to mess up!

posted by Rana | 5/18/2003 08:55:00 AM Permalink

Saturday, May 17, 2003


Yes! I figured out how to make my archives work!

{edit} Well, at least for Netscape 6. Netscape 4.7 is still buggy. But, then, it always is.

Add that to my small, but growing knowledge of html and blogger code. Not enough to parley into an IT job, methinks, but probably enough to make me a valuable "here's the quick and dirty solution" colleague somewhere.

posted by Rana | 5/17/2003 06:07:00 PM Permalink


Looking for Career Guidance in the Public Library

Some observations about looking for career guidance in the public library. There are a lot of books out there about interviewing, resumes and finding out about jobs. There are a fair number of books about making a career change, but most of these seem to be geared towards people who have had a successful career in one field first. There are very few books about how to decide what career you want in the first place.

Apparently my needs are not easily categorized or are atypical relative to those of the usual job seeker. I'm too young and too poor for the "Switch to an Enriching Second Career" guides. I'm too old and too credentialed for the "What Shall I Do After College?" workbooks (though they at least have the right idea). I don't think that I need advice on writing resumes and being interviewed -- at least not the basic stuff (proofread! wear a suit! research the company!). I had thought that trying to figure out new career possibilities in my thirties was something odd primarily from academia's perspective, but perhaps it is simply odd?

Maybe here's an opportunity -- a consortium writing books for GenXers having career crises?

In any case, I did find a few books that I hope will be useful. One's a guide to temping professionally (!), one promises to explain how to "find your perfect work" and not only make a living but "create a life" (snarky -- have unprotected sex! --/snarky), one proposes looking for purpose and realizing dreams, and the last two are sci-fi fantasy books to keep me sane. (Actually, although I'm making fun of these books, they did look more promising than most. If they have any particularly intriguing pearls (or gems?) of wisdom, I'll pass them along.)

posted by Rana | 5/17/2003 05:29:00 PM Permalink



Just back from a long, glorious bike ride. It started out as a simple ride downtown to the library to return books (and check out books on career change -- more later). After I got there, though, the weather was so nice that it expanded into a "what the hell" ride. Since riding aimlessly is fun but I like to have a destination (even if it's go three miles then turn around) I decided to see if it was possible to ride down to the new MegaFood store. Its previous incarnation used to be in the downtown area (which was great, because it was only 2 blocks away from the other grocery, so I could go to both -- their holdings for organic food, etc. don't overlap and each is sparse). It has now moved south of the main part of town to hunker down against the winds with another big box, Target. So this was not a small ride I was contemplating; not only was it a long ride, there was the real possibility that I'd find myself battling traffic wind in the gutter of a four lane highway. But there was the start of a bike path...

So I took it. It turned out that it didn't actually go that far, but there were enough frontage roads along the way that I could avoid the highway margin (whew). So I went into the store and bought cereal (my "reason" for going) and bananas and pita bread. I also wanted to buy a Gatorade -- one of the few sports drinks I can chug without being disgusted by the taste or upset by carbonation or weirded out by strange herbal ingredients. It had been a long ride, and would be a long ride back. Would you believe that there were only two options for would-be Gatorade buyers at Mega? You could either buy a six-pack of decent sized ones or singles of ridiculously huge ones. Heh. Here I am with nothing but a bike and a backpack, and that half-full of library books. What to do? I bought a rice milk carton instead.

The ride home was great. The MegaFood/Target complex is only a short way from a nearby tiny town, and there's a bike trail running from Tiny Town to College Town, where I live. So I pedaled over to Tiny Town, found the bike trail, and headed home. That sentence does little justice to the experience. Imagine a peaceful paved pathway that winds through leafy bowers, along rippling creeks, past open fields and dairy farms and a baseball field, gives you views of church spires and turrets and the mysterious backside of various agricultural plants. Add in the smell of green grass and manure and dirt and dandelions, combine with birdsong from redwing blackbirds and chipping sparrows, cue several ravens to caw as you bike past and a heron to fly overhead, and you can have a small sense of the experience.

Then it was back through the leafy suburban streets of College Town, passing within blocks of friends' houses, crunching over maple keys on the pavement, dodging roadwork, and smiling at a Model T, parents with prams, young girls walking or skating or biking together, people barbequing and working on cars. This place can be brutal during the winter, and horribly hot and humid and mosquito-filled in the summer, but for now, the spring is glorious.

Maple keys crunching
Beneath my bicycle tires
No locks to open...

Caw! The raven shouts
As a heron flies above
A gaping woman.

Helmeted indoors
I cram bananas and books
Into my backpack.

A short journey ends
With the beginning of a
Much longer journey.

posted by Rana | 5/17/2003 05:05:00 PM Permalink


Being Valuable

After hijacking poor Invisible Adjunct's comments once again, this time to talk about my manuscript and my struggles I've been having with it in terms of making it useful for both academic and popular audiences (a division which I've always found strange, being a person who happily reads both kinds of texts), it occurred to me that I really should channel such energy into my own blog.

The trouble is, I think, is that I'm pretty good at reacting to things, but not so good at generating the initial impulse. So I will try to generate my own impulse for once, and react to that.

I think that it would be good for me, both as a blogger and as someone trying to negotiate a possible transition from academic to "other," to think about things going on in my life that are challenging me and requiring me to think or act at higher levels and which reveal what I actually am good at. Now, this may give the appearance of boasting, and I suppose on some level it is. But I want to include my struggles as well as my successes, and it seems to me as well that boasting requires on some level a faith in one's own prowess. Given that this new project is in some ways an effort to inspire such faith, I'm not sure that "boasting" would be the best word. Self-reassurance strikes me as more accurate.

So, then, I will periodically write about something that is requiring the exercise of my skills, intelligence, weird innate talents, etc. in the greater service of convincing myself that I do have such things to value, and to facilitate my thinking about where I can apply them -- not only within academia, but without, whether that be in my personal life or in a new career.

posted by Rana | 5/17/2003 12:12:00 PM Permalink

Friday, May 16, 2003


Well, today has been less nutso, thankfully. I've mostly been sitting in a chair grading, with occasional breaks to stitch a few more seams on the corset. So far it seems to be coming along nicely. Would that more of these term papers were too.

Last night's lunar eclipse was worth viewing. Imagine a big chocolate cookie being dipped into milk, photograph in black and white, and view the negative. There you go! (More or less...)

Another nifty encounter with the non-human world: today on Science Friday, they played recordings of leafhopper songs. Very cool -- one had a funky dance rhythm, and another sounded like the rudest horn honker you ever heard. (I haven't linked to this site before, so I'm not sure if they'll put up sound files for this; they're not up there yet, at any rate.)

posted by Rana | 5/16/2003 02:40:00 PM Permalink

Thursday, May 15, 2003


There's a term for it:

"Vata Derangement"

I like it...

posted by Rana | 5/15/2003 02:26:00 PM Permalink


At this moment I am pinging between (1) grading a student's website, (2) talking to colleagues who pass by my door, (3) visiting blogs, (4) reading comments on blogs, (5) adding my own comments, (6) adding to my own blog (heh -- how self-referential is that?), (7) answering the phone to answer a student's questions, (8) reading bits of Yoga Journal, and (9) eating.
Can we say having a vata moment?

(For the record, I'm a vata-pitta, though happily (?) I largely alternate between the two, rather than being both at once.)

posted by Rana | 5/15/2003 02:17:00 PM Permalink


Naomi Chana (who has just finished her first year teaching -- go congratulate her) ended a recent posting about the ordeals of attending a conference and presenting while suffering from food poisoning with this comment:

"If you prefer to throw up in public (I do not), try to do so just as one of those People Who Do Not Comprehend The Meaning Of The Word "Question" gets going on part II.a.1 of his (almost always "his") position statement. I, personally, prefer the fantasy in which a giant dinosaur foot comes down and squashes him, but I'm adaptable."

Haven't we all had encounters with some variant of The People Who... and isn't this a delightful pair of images?

posted by Rana | 5/15/2003 02:05:00 PM Permalink


Tonight there is a lunar eclipse. (Scroll down; this site is on the technical side, but has good info if you look for it.) Perhaps it's time for that spring moon-watching party you were hoping to throw?

posted by Rana | 5/15/2003 01:50:00 PM Permalink

Wednesday, May 14, 2003


Ah, end-of-term grading...

Small wonder that I decided to begin work on my test corset today. So far it is going well, though I am glad that this is a test version, with less-than-desirable cloth (in a huge floral pattern -- think suitable for a country sofa -- I cannot for the life of me figure out why on earth I decided to buy it in the first place!). I've already had to rip out a few seams because I hadn't clearly envisioned the next stage.

It's at times like this -- and when I have to wrestle with the sewing machine, which is prone to odd mechanical outbursts -- that I just laugh at the thought of those folks who believe that women have no mechanical ability and no spatial sense. To them I say Hah! Hah-hah! Let's see you try to make a lined corset!

posted by Rana | 5/14/2003 10:02:00 PM Permalink


A useful metaphor about the academic job market came to light this morning. I was skimming the business section of our paper, and came across a column by the "Corporate Curmudgeon" Dale Dauten. He opened his piece with an excerpt from Dave Barry about his two dogs. Apparently the two dogs were in the habit of scratching at the door of a screened porch to be let out -- a habit they continued even after the walls of the porch had been blown away by Hurricane Andrew. Dauten then went on to tell a story about how he decided to self-publish his newest book rather than waiting for the publisher, which I found less interesting, but the dog-porch metaphor stuck with me. How many of us in academia are sitting hopefully in front of the porch door, waiting for a search committee to let us in (or out -- I'm not sure which), while all around us the walls are gone?

posted by Rana | 5/14/2003 07:19:00 AM Permalink

Tuesday, May 13, 2003


One parting thought for the day. I just read this in Farhi's book:

"Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered swadhyaya. The soul tends to be lured by those activities that will best illuminate it.... The form that this self-study takes is inconsequential. Whatever the practice, as long as there is an intention to know yourself through it, and the commitment to see the process through, almost any activity can become an opportunity for learning about yourself." (pp. 14-15)

Could this refer to blogging?

Whoa. I just had the weirdest sense of deja vu typing that. Hmmm....

posted by Rana | 5/13/2003 09:13:00 PM Permalink


I've been reading small pieces of Donna Farhi's Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit before I go to bed. Right now I am working my way through the section on the Yamas ("Wise Characteristics") and Niyamas ("Codes for Living Soulfully"). These include:

Ahinsa -- "Compassion for All Living Things"
Satya -- "Commitment to the Truth"
Asteya -- "Not Stealing"
Bramacharya -- "Merging with the Other"
Aparigraha -- "Not Grasping"

Shaucha -- "Purity"
Santosha -- "Contentment"
Tapas -- "Burning Enthusiasm"
Swadhyaya -- "Self-Study"
Ishvarapranidhana -- "Celebration of the Spiritual"

One thing that she suggests is setting aside time in your life to contemplate these principles and see how they relate to your life. You might want to allot a day, a week, or even a decade or a lifetime to the exploration of one or more of them. I mention all this because today I intended to focus on Ahimsa, and tomorrow on Satya, and it strikes me that I may have violated both with my last post.

To explain: upon reading the temp agency's email a second time, it occurred to me that perhaps it had not been sent in response to my email, but to my having begun the application process. Seen in this light, it becomes much less irritating. I still feel annoyance that they assumed that my half-finished and largely incomplete application should be taken as a real one (partly because it was not complete enough to present my skills in a good light, and partly because I had every intention of completing it after I'd found local housing), but to accuse them of willfully or ignorantly misunderstanding my request seems now wrong. I wasn't sure I would post this clarification, but it seems like it would feel wrong not to, however much it puts me in a less-than-admirable light. Clearly, I still have much to learn about the yamas and niyamas!

Of course, I will probably continue to wax cranky in this blog -- which, actually, yoga philosophy does not necessarily condemn. Anger, jealously, and all the other negative emotions are not to be suppressed, but rather viewed as passing rather than intrinsic. So I reserve the right to be cranky -- at least when the target of my gripe deserves it -- which in this case they might not -- and issuing periodic mea culpas as the situation warrants.

Time for sleep, methinks!

posted by Rana | 5/13/2003 08:34:00 PM Permalink


I just got an email back from the temp agency I was having trouble with earlier. If you may recall, there were bugs in the online application process, so I thought that sending them an email apprising them of that fact and asking for suggestions on how to circumvent the bugs would be a reasonable thing to do. I also mentioned that there was no reason to rush in answering my question, as I was not moving to the area until later in the summer. Nothing odd or difficult to understand here, right?

Well, perhaps not. The response I received said -- I'm paraphrasing here -- due to the nature of our business, we don't want applications from people outside the area, and good luck in your job search. Hello... did anything in my email give you the idea that I don't understand the nature of temporary employment staffing services? Did I not say that I was moving to the area? Did you not understand that my question was about the bugs in your program?

Scratch that agency off the list...

posted by Rana | 5/13/2003 04:57:00 PM Permalink


Regarding these catagories of Office Hour Behaviors, I'm probably mostly a Chatterer (gee, who knew?) with Counselor-esque moments.

(Invisible Adjunct's comments on this essay are also worth noting.)

(And yes, it's a big ol' blog love fest here! What can I say... great minds think alike?)

posted by Rana | 5/13/2003 03:31:00 PM Permalink


Today was deliciously warm and green, and my students were thrilled to be able to have their last class of the semester outdoors. I enjoyed watching them, and I've also enjoyed observing the various prone bodies splayed out in the grass around campus. One guy approached the situation with unusual panache, though: he strung one of those colorful hand-woven hammocks between two trees on the center quad, and burrowed into it blissfully reading (on my first two passes) and sleeping (on the last two). Now if only this weather can hold on until commencement...

posted by Rana | 5/13/2003 03:26:00 PM Permalink


I was visiting Invisible Adjunct's blog today, and was delighted to discover that she'd referenced something I'd said in my comments and linked to this blog.

I feel rather like the blog version of the Velveteen Rabbit -- I'm real!

posted by Rana | 5/13/2003 03:20:00 PM Permalink


I heard this early this morning when my clock radio was mumbling in my ear, and I haven't been able to find a good link for it, so take this with a grain of salt (though a small one): apparently we are now facing the largest United States trade deficit in decades, and, get this -- the two biggest gaps are for petroleum and automobiles. Coincidence? (The third one is for aquaculture -- and the only place I found clear mention of the situation is on sites geared toward that industry.)

{edit} Clearly I should have gone to Salon first. It is the second largest. Ever. Here's the scoop.

posted by Rana | 5/13/2003 03:18:00 PM Permalink

Monday, May 12, 2003


I don't know what to make of the following: hard on the heels of his questionable photo op on the aircraft carrier, Bush has decided to schedule a visit to the Airlite plant that will require plant workers to lose vacation time, work overtime or work on the weekend. It makes me wonder if the Rove juggernaut is faltering; first the one seems as much calculated to call attention to Bush's mysterious AWOL in the National Guard as to his Commander-in-Chief-ness, then the second juxtaposes workers' hardships against a massive tax cut spun as intended to help out the average American.

Or maybe this is all intentional. Three possibilities: something bigger is going on, and these are minor distractions meant to keep us looking the other way; the administration does think that Americans are so stupid and pro-Bush (I'm insulted, if so) as to not question what's going on; Rove has his eye on bigger fish and is setting Bush up for a fall. The first, of course, seems both the most likely and the most terrifying.

Ech. Sometimes I dislike the way my mind works!

posted by Rana | 5/12/2003 01:19:00 PM Permalink

Sunday, May 11, 2003


This seems to be the time when computers act up. First was the buggy online form. Now my blog itself is acting up, with double-posts and bad time signatures (it is _not_ 6am yesterday!) Also, I discovered that the link I had to Tom Tomorrow's site was wrong. "" takes you to a horrible site filled with pop-ups that refuses to let you move on unless you close down the window entirely. (Hey, maybe it's the reason for all the bugs -- time to do some virus checking and cookie scouring, methinks!) I've corrected it now, and apologize if anyone was misled to the horrible fake site.

posted by Rana | 5/11/2003 10:41:00 PM Permalink


I'm taking a break from filling out an online temp agency employment form. So far I'm not impressed, either with the site (their security seems dubious and the form is buggy, negating the virtues of doing one's entire application online) or with the "skill sets" I supposedly need. I haven't taken the typing/computer program tests yet, but the basic skills tests were just pitiful. Can you place things in alpha-numerical order? Can you add/subtract/multiply/divide numbers with decimal points? Do you know what "deference" means? Can you spell "executive" correctly? (No joke -- "deference" and "executive" were among the words I was asked to define and spell-check.)


posted by Rana | 5/11/2003 10:01:00 PM Permalink


The final is written -- huzzah. One less thing to be avoiding.

I go through this at the end of every term -- notably the wrestling with myself over whether to give them a take-home final or not. The plus side of the ledger includes being able to demand typewritten entries, not having to police the test-takers and the potential for responses that don't have that delightful "barfed on the page" quality. On the negative is that they tend to be longer, tend to require more careful wording of the questions and inclusion of clarifying text and hints (though I do also allow them to email me with questions until the night before it's due) and the number of delightful blue-book bloopers and weird sentences goes way down.

Sadly, it's the lost bloopers that distress me the most. When I was TA-ing for large lecture courses, I maintained a running file of these priceless gems of blooperdom. I even asked my friends to tell me theirs so I could add them to the list. Sometimes I still do stumble across a malapropism that is worthy of being memorialized in the blooper list. I know I'm not the only one who does this -- I'm sure many of you have already read the "history of the world" version and perhaps the book Non Campus Mentis. I suppose this is partly to keep us graders awake and sane, but also because some are so damned funny!

A sampling...

"This new juvenile country and nation had to grow simple because that's what children do when they're little."

"Females had once been an untapped labor source and factories began to speckel [sic] the countryside as this new labor exploded."

"Primary sources have been around since the beginning of time."

"Of high moral standards, yet not above a practical joke, this man was the object of every woman's dream husband."

posted by Rana | 5/11/2003 04:24:00 PM Permalink


It's a rainy Sunday, and I'm avoiding doing all the things I'm supposed to be doing. Top of the list currently is writing a take-home final for my students. I know basically what it is that I want to do, and I have a template from the last time I taught the course (how nice, that). However, both hard copy and digital versions of previous exams are in my on-campus office. I don't know why that should be a real problem -- campus is only about a mile and a half from my apartment -- but inertia seems to have a firm grip on me today.

Well, the sloth must soon end; the day I hand out exams they're turning in end-of-semester projects, and several are seniors, meaning I only have 24 hours after the final is due to get their grades in. Ugh.

But hey! After that my summer's free until moving time!

posted by Rana | 5/11/2003 10:59:00 AM Permalink

Saturday, May 10, 2003


Your Cerebral Hematoma requires me to congratulate you on your ability to compute the Lesbian Integral of a macaroon.

When faced with scathing winds and torrents pouring forth stain, your mind thinks cleverly to the leprous angels found in all train crashes.

If you behave there will be cake for the miscreants we call your brothers.

It's The Surrealist Compliment Generator!

posted by Rana | 5/10/2003 12:12:00 PM Permalink

Friday, May 09, 2003


My bit of whimsy for the day...

Going to the local fabric store and buying corset patterns. I don't know why this odd, old-fashioned undergarment appeals to me, let alone the making of one. (Though there seem to be more of us out there than you might think -- I found myself chatting amiably about busks and bones with the fabric woman.) The actual making may have to wait awhile -- I have no idea how much a corset busk will cost -- but in the meantime I can gloat over the pattern!

posted by Rana | 5/09/2003 03:10:00 PM Permalink


It has occurred to me that one of the problems with being a job market "failure" (scare quotes because I'm learning to see that it's the market's failure, not mine) is not having a handy answer to the perennial academic's question, "So, what are you doing next year?"

So... I'm trying to think of snappy ways to explain what I'm doing and why, without going into all of the details -- that I did not get an academic job offer, I am moving and don't know where exactly I'm going to live (beyond region), I don't know exactly what I'll be doing there, and I don't know how long this will last. My reasoning is that close friends know all the reasons already, and that it's not worth explaining the details to colleagues I'm not likely to see again.

In the research catagory, I've come up with: "I'm on sabbatical from academia" and "I'm moving to be closer to my sources while revising my manuscript."

In the professional category: "I don't believe that it is good for my career to be taking temporary positions in fields I'm not interested in, so I will be taking time off to better research the market" and "There are more job opportunities in Region X" (true!)

In the personal category: "I want to live closer to my boyfriend/family/friends," "I'm sick of the weather" (to be deployed only as a last resort as it conveys a certain regional wimpiness), "I miss being in the part of the country I grew up in," "The political situation in this state is worsening, and I don't want to live here anymore."

Of course, I could also simply master a glare, a weepy look, a stony silence, a maniacal grin and a smile of mysterious beneficence, and use one of these expressions as the audience (or my sense of mischief) warrants.

Any other possibilities?

posted by Rana | 5/09/2003 02:54:00 PM Permalink


I can tell it's getting toward the end of the semester. Not only are all of the professors and students wandering around in dazes or surly grumps, but last night I had a grading dream. It wasn't quite a nightmare, in that it seemed pretty low key, but it certainly was not a positive grading experience. There were lots of misfiled papers, recommendations not sent, papers returned mistakenly before I'd recorded the grades, and so on. It's a good thing that I didn't teach today; it would be hard not to spend the class wondering whether I did actually write those dream comments on real papers!

posted by Rana | 5/09/2003 12:34:00 PM Permalink

Thursday, May 08, 2003


One observation I've made this year on the academic job market is how little correlation there seems to be between the quality of your work and the likelihood that it will result in something concrete. Several people have expressed their "fascination" with the work that I'm doing (and it's not even my current project-in-waiting; it's my dissertation cum manuscript) or commented positively on my overall abilities as an academic; most then follow this up with some remark about what this implies for my future job prospects. Thankfully (?) they've stopped expressing surprise that I'm not in a tenure-line position yet; I think that finally some sense of the tightness of the market in my field has become general knowledge. But there is a near-universal assumption that a job that "makes better use of my talents" is somewhere around the corner; one person even told me that it "would be a waste" if I turned outside of academia for employment (as if my brain would stop functioning if I did). I'm not convinced; indeed, every time I receive one of these comments these days I'm sceptical about the judgement and motives of the person making it. Are they naive? Are they mistaken about my work's quality? Is there an unspoken judgement being passed on me for not fully realizing my talents? Do they possess the discriminative skills needed to judge my work properly? (This last one hits home rather hard, as a colleague who'd just consoled me for not getting one position by telling me that there were ones better suited to my skills out there has just passed along a search announcement for a position that is manifestly not a good fit.) Some days I feel like my head will explode from the disconnect between the praise I receive and the fact that I will be doing temporary clerical work to support myself next year -- but that's, in part, what this blog is for -- to prevent me exploding!

[edit] I hope that I don't sound ungrateful for the support and advice offered by these colleagues; I actually appreciate their confidence in me and their willingness to help me. It's just that the situation is larger than them and me, and I often feel that I have a clearer sense of it than they do, and definitely a much more personal stake in the outcome.

posted by Rana | 5/08/2003 08:20:00 AM Permalink

Wednesday, May 07, 2003


Okay, enough playing with the blog. I've papers to grade tomorrow and I've already stayed up waaaaay too late! Time to put a drop in my eye (I'm battling a bout of iritis) and go to bed!

posted by Rana | 5/07/2003 10:55:00 PM Permalink


I've just added some links -- they're part of my usual daily round of blogs and news sources and other related beasties. If you've just happened on this site, you should probably expect that the next few weeks are going to probably involve a lot of "ooh! look! I can make my blog do this!" I'll try to add in other interesting things, but my life's pretty quiet...

One of my current projects is knitting a sweater for my dad. It's an off-again, on-again sort of thing, given that it involves an insane amount of cabling. Now, knitting cables isn't really hard, but it does require that you actually pay attention as you knit. One wrong stitch, and the pattern's off. Being both somewhat absent-minded and easily distracted, this happens a lot. I've gotten very good at using a crochet hook to correct stitch errors several rows after the fact, but it's still a pain. However, the knitting is looking increasingly cool the bigger the panel gets.

I've also been trying to develop a home practice in yoga. Basically, this means that you do yoga regularly on your own outside of class. It's a way of disciplining your mind and (for me, anyway) maintaining your physical development between classes. I'm not very good at it; one of my failings is my utter inability to create a solid daily routine and stick to it. However, on those days when I successfully get myself to do yoga, I enjoy it. Today, I tried tripod (basically a headstand supported with elbows) and nearly managed it. Yay! I also worked on a few arm balances (alas, I cannot recall their names) that involve making an odd pretzel shape of yourself and then balancing on your hands. These are silly and fun and always make me laugh -- I probably should do more of them!

posted by Rana | 5/07/2003 06:29:00 PM Permalink


Ah... much better colors. I can live with these for a while until I get up the energy to mess with the template again.

As the description says, this blog is intended to be a space for my random thoughts. Some of them will be related to my various hobby-type obsessions; currently this includes knitting, sewing period clothing, spinning, yoga... no doubt more will be added! (I'd say I'm rather a Renaissance woman, but that implies mastery of all of the activities -- scatterbrained amateur would be a better description!) Other topics that might appear include my frustrations with academia, odd bits of politics, meditations on life, etc. In short, your typical random blog -- hence the name, "Frogs and Ravens." I'll be leaping after various shiny things, cawing about things that annoy me, and occasionally tapping my inner trickster to deal with the weirdness that is life.

So... away!

posted by Rana | 5/07/2003 04:08:00 PM Permalink


Yay! It worked!

posted by Rana | 5/07/2003 03:35:00 PM Permalink


Okay... I'd love to start my blog off with a bang, but so far I'm just being happy if it works. The templates are proving trickier to handle than I'd thought; I can't even imagine customizing them at this point!

posted by Rana | 5/07/2003 03:31:00 PM Permalink

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